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Forecast: Tensions high after suspected Israeli strike on Iran, U.S. deploys landing jetty for aid to Gaza, and pipeline begins operations in Canada

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Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

Tensions between Israel and Iran climbed higher last week after a drone attack in Iran’s Isfahan province. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Agnese Boffano discuss how the suspected retaliatory strike, widely attributed to Israel, has been received in the respective countries and why security risks remain high despite this chapter of direct intervention between Israel and Iran seeming to have somewhat closed. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

Week of April 26-May 3
A Look Ahead

April 26 – Second phase of voting begins in India  

Some 89 seats across 12 Indian states and the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory will be up for grabs in the second phase of India’s general elections beginning Friday.

What’s happened so far 
Incidents of violence and electoral interference were reported in Manipur, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh during phase one of voting. At least 11 Manipur polling stations went to a re-vote on April 22 because of reports of shootings and damage to electoral voting machines. Overall, voter turnout fell by 4.4 percent in phase one over the 2019 election. Some of the drop was attributed to rising temperatures and heatwaves. There are also fears that both the opposition and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters stayed home out of complacency borne from widely-reported expectations of another Narendra Modi win. 

The impact 
Turnout will remain in focus in phase two, especially in Kerala where Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent of India’s opposition Congress Party is running for a second termThe race is expected to be tough. Gandhi is facing a strong local BJP contender as well as a senior candidate from the Communist Party of India. Also worth watching are the polls in Jammu and Kashmir, the first since New Delhi revoked the disputed region’s partial autonomy in 2019. The ruling BJP is operating from an obvious position of strength in Kashmir while facing a fractured opposition. Voting for the Lok Sabha will continue across seven phases until results on June 4. 

April 26 – Olympic flame handed over to Paris organizers

Organizers of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games will receive the Olympic flame during a ceremony at the Panathenaic stadium in Athens, Greece, on Friday.

What’s happened so far 
The Olympic flame was lit last Tuesday at the ancient site in Olympia and has been making its way to the Greek capital for a handover ceremony. Following its Greek tour and Friday’s handover, it is due to sail to France, arriving in the southern port city of Marseille on May 8, where it will then embark on a public relay through France. It is expected to draw large crowds along streets as it passes.

The impact 
With fewer than 100 days until the games begin, there is continued concern over safety challenges facing the Paris Games, despite plans for an unprecedented security operation. France’s President Emmanuel Macron recently suggested that the maritime opening ceremony set to take place on the Seine could be ditched in favor of a more controlled environment or moved to the Stade de France. Tight security punctuated the lighting ceremony in Olympia and is expected to continue throughout the flame’s journey to Paris.

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April 27 – Driverless racecars make Abu Dhabi debut  

The Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League will hold its inaugural race on Saturday.

What’s happened so far 
The Yas Marina Circuit in the United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi will play host to the first race involving fully-autonomous vehicles controlled by software algorithms as opposed to human drivers. Eight teams are set to compete over the $2.25 million prize pool using identical cars from Italian manufacturer Dallara. 

The impact 
While the cars are identical, the element of competition will exist within the constructed algorithms, for which each team is responsible. The race underscores both the progress made globally on autonomous vehicle creation as well as continued long-term efforts underway in the UAE to diversify the economy away from oil.

April 30 – New post-Brexit border controls start  

On Tuesday, the U.K. government is set to begin its second phase of stronger post-Brexit border controls, tariffs and checks from the EU. 

What’s happened so far 
Defra, the U.K. food and environment department, has assured businesses and consumers that checks along EU border points will begin as scheduled, amid several reports that authorities were going to scale back and delay the new border controls due to disruption concerns. Checks will incorporate the “consumer user charge” for U.K. businesses importing goods that enter either through Dover’s port or the Eurotunnel, as well as more stringent checks for “medium-risk” animal and plant products, emphasizing goods that pose a high risk to biosecurity. 

The impact 
While the government said there will be a limited amount of disruption, there has been no real indication from authorities of how frequent the border control checks will be or how stringent. The new rules are essential for U.K. exporters to remain competitive, but the charges, which could go up to £145 ($179) for businesses, and the lengthy border checks put the most strain on small businesses reliant on EU imports. How widespread the disruption will be is yet to be seen, but it likely will affect U.K. inflation in the short-term. 

May 1 – UnitedHealth executive testifies before House committee  

A February cyberattack targeting one the largest providers of healthcare billing and data systems in the United States will be the subject of a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, with UnitedHealth CEO Andrew Witty called to appear before the panel.

What’s happened so far 
Operations at hospitals and pharmacies were severely disrupted for weeks after the breach by Russian ransomware gang BlackCat targeting the operations of Change Healthcare, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth. The company confirmed it paid a ransom — reported by multiple media outlets to be around $22 million in Bitcoin — and that files containing personal information were compromised. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has since launched an investigation into the incident.

The impact 
Some have raised concerns that the ransom payment has set a dangerous precedent that could spark further attacks targeting the healthcare industry. In its first-quarter earnings report, UnitedHealth claimed it had lost $872 million to “unfavorable cyberattack effects.”

May 1 – Deployment of U.S. Gaza aid landing jetty  

The United States could provide much-needed aid for Gaza as soon as Wednesday thanks to the construction of a pier in the Mediterranean Sea.

What’s happened so far 
U.S. President Joe Biden pledged aid to the Palestinian people days after the Hamas-led attack on Israel in October. As the conflict escalated, food shortages for the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza became critical, exceeding famine levels. Distributing food in Gaza often turned deadly, leading to the United States airdropping aid into the area. Things worsened earlier this month when an Israeli strike killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, leading several humanitarian aid organizations to pause operations

The impact 
Biden made sure to say no U.S. boots would be on the ground, and the plan to build an 1,800-foot long pier connecting the shore to a large floating platform where ships will unload aid is becoming a reality. When finished, it will be able to deliver two million meals a day for Gaza residents. However, the aid distribution zone will still be secured by the Israeli military, and there is concern that once things are up and running, Israel will neglect the more efficient land corridors.

May 1 – Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion begins operations  

Western Canada’s controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion will begin transporting oil on Wednesday, nearly tripling the amount of fuel transported through the corridor. 

What’s happened so far 
The original Trans Mountain Pipeline opened in 1952 and connected the oil refineries of Edmonton, Alberta, with the west coast port of Burnaby, British Columbia. Houston-based Kinder Morgan began the planning and construction of a parallel expansion pipeline in 2013 at an estimated cost of $6.8 billion.The Canadian government then took over the project in 2018 in a move that proved highly controversial for the environmentalist image of the Liberal Party. The project also faced resistance from encampments set up by First Nations groups in the interior of British Colunbia, court challenges and cost inflation.

The impact 
Alberta oil has always been more expensive to produce than OPEC exports, largely because of extremely high transport costs. The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion will nearly triple the shipping capacity, taking it from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000. While Canada’s Finance Minister has estimated this could boost the national GDP by 0.25 percent, it has not been without its costs for the federal government. The pipeline’s final cost will reach over $34 billion, meaning high transit fees for Canadian oil refiners like Suncor and Husky, as well as an almost-guaranteed loss on the federal government’s investment when they move to sell the pipeline

What Else Matters

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Protesters gather outside parliament in Tbilisi, Georgia, in March 2023. (Photo: DerFuchs / Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 4.0)

Protests against Georgia’s foreign agents bill 

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Georgia to protest the government’s renewed attempt to introduce a “foreign influence” bill, nearly identical to one abandoned last year that sparked similar outrage. The proposed law, already approved by parliament in its first reading, would require media outlets and non-commercial organizations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad. Opponents say the bill could be used to stifle criticism and to crack down on socially liberal NGOs and trade unions, while the government said they have the right to require transparency.

Watch for: Brawls have broken out both in the streets and in the halls of Georgia’s parliament over the controversial law, with more protests likely as the bill progresses through two more readings in parliament. The proposed law could also sour Georgia’s chances at joining the EU, which has denounced the legislation as “not in line with EU core norms and values.” Political tensions in Georgia are unlikely to let up anytime soon as the country’s parliamentary elections are due by October

Israeli attack on Iran 

Iranian air defenses shot down three drones over the Isfahan province last week, during which explosions were reported over the city. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, but security sources believe Israel is behind the incident as a possible retaliation to Tehran’s firing of more than 300 projectiles toward Israel on April 13. Iran’s attack on Israel — the first time after decades of tensions — was a retaliatory move over Israel’s alleged attack on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus on April 1.

Watch for: Although the drones were successfully intercepted and caused no damage, Israel’s apparent decision to strike Isfahan was symbolic due to the province’s housing of a uranium enrichment facility as well as several key military bases. Following Washington’s pleas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to exercise restraint in the face of Iran, analysts believe this particular chapter of direct attacks between the two hostile countries to be over for the time being. Attacks have continued on Iran-aligned bases in the region, however, as all parties involved inch closer to an even further regional escalation.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

April 26-May 3 

April 26

  • Second phase of voting begins in India
  • Olympic flame handed over to Paris organizers

April 27 

  • Turkey’s IYI party elective congress
  • Driverless racecars make Abu Dhabi debut 

April 29

  • Togo legislative and regional elections

April 30

  • New post-Brexit border controls start

May 1

  • Deployment of US Gaza aid landing jetty
  • UnitedHealth CEO to testify before US House panel on cyberattack at tech unit 
  • Trans Mountain’s expanded pipeline system will start operating

May 2

  • UK’s Blackpool South constituency by-election

May 4-10 

May 5

  • Panamanian general election
  • Final rehearsal of Victory Parade in Russia

May 6

  • Met Gala in New York City
  • Criminal trial of US Senator Menendez
  • First round of Chad presidential election

May 8

  • Arrival of the Olympic flame in Marseilles
  • Parliamentary and presidential elections in North Macedonia

May 9

  • Erdogan-Biden meeting at the White House

May 10

  • Deadline for India to withdraw all troops from Maldives
  • Trump will stand trial in the classified documents case in Miami

May 11-17 

May 12

  • Catalan regional election

May 15

  • Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to step down, Lawrence Wong to be sworn in

May 18-24 

May 18 

  • EU mission in Mali expires

May 19 

  • Dominican Republic general election

May 23

  • Kenyan president to visit White House

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Top photo: Election advertisements are seen along a road in Darsi, India, in April 2024. (Photo: Arjunaraoc / Wikimedia Commons)

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